Parshat Pinchas: Transition and Inheritance

Inheritance has always been a sensitive topic. Family ties frequently fray at the edges, as frustrations and expectations run headlong into the instability of a time of transition. As we approach the end of the Torah’s narratives, the issue of transition and inheritance rises to the forefront.

We read of Tzelofchod’s daughters, who approach Moshe after their father’s death to ask if the law will have them inherit his estate. Moshe checks with Hashem, and answers that indeed they will. Reminded that he too will not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe uses the opportunity to raise the subject of succession. If he will not be the leader, will Hashem clearly appoint another to lead the people safely into Israel? Hashem responds that his student Joshua, will become the next leader and that Moshe will “share some of his spiritual splendor” with his pupil (27:20).

This last suggestion has the potential to be deeply unsettling at a sensitive moment. Imagine for a moment that you are a member of the Jewish People, stuck in slavery. Hashem sends Moshe to take you out of Egypt with incredible miracles that continue as you travel the desert with manna to eat, water to drink and protected by clouds of Divine Glory. A tough road lies ahead as you face war against seven nations in the Promised Land.

Moshe and Joshua

Without Moshe at the helm, you are surely quite anxious. But what can you do? There is no search committee, just a Divine directive that Joshua will lead. At the very least you would like to know that your new leader has been carefully vetted, directed and inspired by Moshe. Then you find out that Moshe is to give “of his spiritual splendor” to your new leader, meaning that he will give some but not all of it. This is very disconcerting. We need all the help that we can get now! Why set up a leader who will not match Moshe?

The Talmud (Bava Batra 75B), sensitive to the difference in the spiritual abilities of Moshe and Joshua reflected in this verse, suggests that the radiance of “Moshe’s face was like the sun and Joshua’s was like the moon.” Like the moon that reflects the sun’s light but lacks its intensity, Joshua is lit up by Moshe but is no substitute.

Examining the flow of the dialogue, the Midrash suggests that Moshe saw an opportunity for a request. Just as Tzelofchad’s daughters will inherit their father, could Moshe’s own son inherit his position of spiritual leadership? When that request is denied in favor of his student Joshua, Moshe then hopes to offer Joshua the complete package of his spiritual gifts, only to be denied again. Why?

Rashi observes that the name used to refer to Hashem in this passage is “Elokei HaRuchot,” (the G-d of Spirits), a name that connotes Hashem’s ability to see the individual potential and distinct abilities of each and every human being. This name is most appropriate in the selection of a new leader, as each candidate is unique.

Change vs SameThis then, may be Hashem’s message to Moshe: he can influence and teach the next leader, but that person cannot be an extension of him. The new leader must lead in the way that they can best, of their own personal abilities. Moshe was an impossibly difficult act to follow, and as the name “Elokei HaRuchot” indicates, no two people could ever be the same. Moshe’s sons, like it or not, could never be him and neither could Joshua.

Thus, in a message to all future generations, Moshe’s sons are passed over for leadership, and his student is only offered “of his splendor”. It is a point easily lost, and to this day we often fall into the trap of expecting ourselves or someone else to be just like their parents. But just as Hashem turned down Moshe, the point is clear: it is unfair to look to a child to be their parent all over again. We may exceed them or we may only be the moon reflecting their brilliance, but the reality of our lives is that while genetic traits and personal lessons may be passed on, our personas are unique.

This article is taken from Rabbi Dardik’s book Beth Jacob, Let us Go Forward: A Shabbat and Holiday Reader.

Rabbi Judah DardikRabbi Judah Dardik, a contributor to Beit Hillel, made aliyah this year after thirteen years as the spiritual and community leader of Beth Jacob Congregation, in Oakland, California. Under his leadership, that fast-growing community of families from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs and practices made itself a vibrant religious, educational and social center for Jews across the Bay Area. He is a musmach of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University, from which he also holds degrees in business and education. He is a trained couples counselor, loves wine making, hiking and roller hockey. He is now enjoying life as a full time Ramm at Yeshivat Orayta in the Old City of Yerushalaim.

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